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Remembering the Colorado Silver Bullets

Sixteen-year-old knuckleballer Eri Yoshida made news earlier this week when she was selected in the Kansai Independent Baseball League draft. Remember the name, because you might hear it again in a few years when the Red Sox sign Yoshida to replace her idol, Tim Wakefield. We're kidding (we think).

Of course women playing baseball against men is nothing new. In fact, it was only 11 years ago that the all-female Colorado Silver Bullets were barnstorming across the country, challenging men's pro, semi-pro, and amateur teams from coast to coast. Here's a look back at the history of the team.

The Beginning: The man behind the creation of the Silver Bullets was Bob Hope, the Atlanta Braves' former vice president of promotions (not the late actor and comedian). Hope had developed a reputation for his unique ideas while with the Braves. On "Headlock and Wedlock Night," wedding ceremonies at home plate were followed by a professional wrestling exhibition. During another one of Hope's promotions, an Atlanta disc jockey nearly suffocated after diving headfirst into the world's largest ice cream sundae.

Still, Hope garnered the financial backing of the Coors Brewing Co. in 1993, and under the ownership of Whittle Communications in Knoxville, Tennessee, the Silver Bullets became the first women's team to be recognized by the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues. Hope tabbed former Braves pitcher and Hall of Famer Phil Niekro as manager and Shereen Samonds, the only female general manager in Double-A baseball at the time, as the team's top front office executive. Niekro would manage the team for its first three seasons.

The Tryouts: In a process reminiscent of the women-only league portrayed in the movie A League of Their Own, 1,300 women attended tryouts at 11 different locations across the country in the spring of 1994. Forty-eight were invited to the team's training camp in Orlando, Fla., before the team roster was whittled to 24. Legal assistants, nurses, teachers, waitresses, college students, and a Sports Illustrated writer were among those who tried out in hopes of being a part of history. And then there was Geri Fritz. After she was let go in one of the final rounds of cuts, it was revealed that Fritz was born a man. Fritz formerly went by Gerald and played college and professional baseball, but claimed to be legally female. The $20,000 that players earned for making the team could've helped the unemployed Fritz pay for the sex-change operation she wanted.

stacy-sunny.jpgThe First Season: To say the Silver Bullets struggled in their first season would be like saying Coors Light isn't the world's greatest beer. Colorado compiled a 6-38 record in 1994 and was outscored 57-1 in its first six games. The brutal start prompted the team to cancel its remaining scheduled games with Northern League teams and to schedule semi-pro and amateur teams instead. As the season wore on, it became increasingly clear that while the Silver Bullets could field and, to a lesser extent, pitch on par with some of their male counterparts, hitting was another story. Stacy Sunny led the team in nearly every offensive category, including runs (11), RBI (11), hits (23), and average (.200). As a team, the Silver Bullets averaged 1.9 runs per game and hit .154.

The Reaction: The Silver Bullets were a big draw at the gates during their first season. While they normally played in smaller minor league ballparks, they attracted crowds of more than 30,000 fans for games in Denver and San Diego. Silver Bullets souvenirs were hot items and the team generated a media buzz wherever it went. Not everyone was enamored with the idea, however. New York Times sports columnist Barbara Walder wrote: "This sad, slightly embarrassing stunt is just another way women have dropped the ball in their sporting quests over the last 20 years. Not even the most-reflexive feminists can work up much excitement for this enterprise. For instead of being bravely ahead of its time, the Bullets are badly behind, resorting to an attention-getter "“ sports women versus men "“ that like Bill Veeck's baseball-playing midget, can only work once."

colorado-silver-bullets.jpgThe Improvement: The team improved its win total from six to 11 to 18 over the first three seasons, but the novelty of the idea slowly started to wear off. Average attendance dipped from approximately 8,000 in 1994 to 3,500 in 1995 as the team continued to struggle to compete and score runs. After starting the 1996 season 4-19, the Silver Bullets switched to aluminum bats and won 14 of their final 30 games. The team traveled to Taiwan for six exhibition games against men's teams from the Taiwan Major League in the offseason, but were outscored 69-18 and lost all six games. Searching for ways to cut costs, the Silver Bullets established a home base in Albany, Georgia, where they played close to half of their games in 1997.

The Brawl: On June 11, 1997, Kim Braatz-Voisard stepped to the plate with two outs in the ninth and the Silver Bullets trailing an 18-and-under state champion team from Georgia by four runs. One pitch after she told the opposing team's heckling teenage catcher to shut up and play ball, she was drilled in the back with a fastball. The pitcher then laughed at Braatz-Voisard, who charged the mound and set off a bench-clearing brawl.

"I don't blame her," first-year Silver Bullets manager Bruce Crabbe told reporters afterward. "If Albert Belle gets hit by a pitcher who laughs at him, you think he might charge the mound?" The opposing team's manager said his pitcher did not intentionally throw at Braatz-Voisard, who one year earlier hit Colorado's first out-of-the-park home run. Attendance received a boost following the brawl, including a crowd of 10,000 for a game in Alaska. "It's almost a validating thing," Hope said. "This is a baseball team. If you're willing to brawl, you care about what you're doing."

The End: The Silver Bullets finished the 1997 season with their first winning record (23-22), but disbanded after losing Coors as their sponsor. A Coors spokesperson said the decision had nothing to do with the team's play, but Hope was disappointed nonetheless. "We don't want to sound ungrateful to Coors for giving us this opportunity, but it brings into question whether they consider this a corporate responsibility program, or just a novelty act," Hope told a reporter. "The idea apparently lost its freshness." The idea, apparently, lacked a Frost Brew Liner.

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9 Scandals that Rocked the Figure Skating World
ERIC FEFERBERG, AFP/Getty Images
ERIC FEFERBERG, AFP/Getty Images

Don't let the ornate costumes and beautiful choreography fool you, figure skaters are no strangers to scandal. Here are nine notable ones.

1. TONYA AND NANCY.

Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding
Pascal Rondeau, ALLSPORT/Getty Images

In 1994, a little club-and-run thrust the sport of figure skating into the spotlight. The assault on reigning national champion Nancy Kerrigan (and her subsequent anguished cries) at the 1994 U.S. National Figure Skating Championships in Detroit was heard round the world, as were the allegations that her main rival, Tonya Harding, may have been behind it all.

The story goes a little something like this: As America's sweetheart (Kerrigan) is preparing to compete for a spot on the U.S. Olympic team bound for Lillehammer, Norway, she gets clubbed in the knee outside the locker room after practice. Kerrigan is forced to withdraw from competition and Harding gets the gold. Details soon emerge that Harding's ex-husband, Jeff Gillooly, was behind the attack (he hired a hitman). Harding denies any knowledge or involvement, but tanks at the Olympics the following month. She then pleads guilty to hindering prosecution of Gillooly and his co-conspirators, bodyguard Shawn Eckhart and hitman Shane Stant. And then she's banned from figure skating for life.

Questions about Harding's guilt remain two decades later, and the event is still a topic of conversation today. Recently, both an ESPN 30 for 30 documentary and the Oscar-nominated film I, Tonya revisited the saga, proving we can't get enough of a little figure skating scandal.

2. HAND-PICKED FOR GOLD.

Mirai Nagasu and Ashley Wagner at the podium
Jared Wickerham, Getty Images

Usually it's the top three medalists at the U.S. Nationals that compete for America at the Winter Olympics every four years. But in 2014, gold medalist Gracie Gold (no pun intended), silver medalist Polina Edmunds, and ... "pewter" medalist Ashley Wagner were destined for Sochi.

What about the bronze medalist, you ask? Mirai Nagasu, despite out-skating Wagner by a landslide in Boston and despite being the only skater with prior Olympic experience (she placed fourth at Vancouver in 2010) had to watch it all on television. The decision by the country's governing body of figure skating (United States Figure Skating Association, or USFS) deeply divided the skating community as to whether it was the right choice to pass over Nagasu in favor of Wagner, who hadn't skated so great, and it put a global spotlight on the selection process.

In reality, the athletes that we send to the Olympics are not chosen solely on their performance at Nationals—it's one of many criteria taken into consideration, including performance in international competition over the previous year, difficulty of each skater's technical elements, and, to some degree, their marketability to a world audience. This has happened before to other skaters—most notably Michelle Kwan was relegated to being an alternate in 1994 after Nancy Kerrigan was granted a medical bye after the leg-clubbing heard round the world. Nagasu had the right to appeal the decision, and was encouraged to do so by mobs of angry skating fans, but she elected not to.

3. SALT LAKE CITY, 2002.

Pairs skaters Jamie Sale and David Pelletier of Canada and Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze of Russia perform in the figure skating exhibition during the Salt Lake City Winter Olympic Games at the Salt Lake Ice Center in Salt Lake City, Utah
Brian Bahr, Getty Images

Objectively, this scandal rocked the skating world the hardest, because the end result was a shattering of the competitive sport's very structure. When Canadian pairs team Jamie Sale and David Pelletier found themselves in second place after a flawless freeskate at the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake, something wasn't right. The Russian team of Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze placed first, despite a technically flawed performance.

An investigation into the result revealed that judges had conspired to fix the results of the pairs and dance events—a French judge admitted to being pressured to vote for the Russian pair in exchange for a boost for the French dance team (who won that event). In the end, both pairs teams were awarded a gold medal, and the entire system of judging figure skating competition was thrown out and rebuilt.

4. AGENT OF STYLE.

Jackson Haines was an American figure skater in the mid-1800s who had some crazy ideas about the sport. He had this absolutely ludicrous notion of skating to music (music!), waltzing on ice, as well as incorporating balletic movements, athletic jumps, and spins into competition. His brand new style of skating was in complete contrast to the rigid, traditional, and formal (read: awkward) standard of tracing figure-eights into the ice. Needless to say, it was not well received by the skating world in America, so he was forced to take his talents to the Old World.

His new “international style” did eventually catch on around the globe, and Haines is now hailed as the father of modern figure skating. He also invented the sit spin, a technical element now required in almost every level and discipline of the sport.

5. LADIES LAST.

In 1902, competitive figure skating was a gentlemen's pursuit. Ladies simply didn't compete by themselves on the world stage (though they did compete in pairs events). But a British skater named Madge Syers flouted that standard, entering the World Figure Skating Championships in 1902. She ruffled a lot of feathers, but was ultimately allowed to compete and beat the pants off every man save one, earning the silver medal.

Her actions sparked a controversy that spurred the International Skating Union to create a separate competitive world event for women in 1906. Madge went on to win that twice, and became Olympic champion at the 1908 summer games [PDF] in London—the first “winter” Olympics weren't held until 1924 in France, several years after Madge died in 1917.

6. AGENT OF STYLE, PART 2.

A picture of Norwegian figure skater Sonja Henie
Keystone/Getty Images

Norwegian skater Sonja Henie was the darling of the figure skating world in the first half of the 20th century. The flirtatious blonde was a three-time Olympic champion, a movie star, and the role model of countless aspiring skaters. She brought sexy back to skating—or rather, introduced it. She was the first skater to wear scandalously short skirts and white skates. Prior to her bold fashion choices, ladies wore black skates and long, conservative skirts. During WWII, a fabric shortage hiked up the skirts even further than Henie's typical length, and the ladies of figure skating have never looked back.

7. TOO SEXY FOR HER SKATES.

Katarina Witt displaying her gold medal
DANIEL JANIN, AFP/Getty Images

A buxom young beauty from the former Democratic German Republic dominated ladies figure skating in the mid- to late 1980s. A two-time Olympic champion, and one of the most decorated female skaters in history, Katarina Witt was just too sexy for her shirt—she tended to wear scandalously revealing costumes (one of which resulted in a wardrobe malfunction during a show), and was criticized for attempting to flirt with the judges to earn higher scores.

The ISU put the kibosh on the controversial outfits soon afterward, inserting a rule that all competitive female skaters “must not give the effect of excessive nudity inappropriate for an athletic sport.” The outrage forced Witt to add some fabric to her competitive outfits in the late '80s. But 10 years later she took it all off, posing naked for a 1998 issue of Playboy.

8. MORE COSTUME CONTROVERSY.

For the 2010 competitive year, the ISU's annual theme for the original dance segment (since defunct and replaced by the “short dance”) was “country/folk.” That meant competitors had to create a routine that explored some aspect of it, in both music and costume as well as in maneuvers. The top Russian pair chose to emulate Aboriginal tribal dancing in their program, decked in full bodysuits adorned with their interpretation of Aboriginal body paint (and a loincloth).

Their debut performance at the European Championships drew heavy criticism from Aboriginal groups in both Australia and Canada, who were greatly offended by the inaccuracy of the costumes and the routine. The Russian pair, Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin, were quick to dial down the costumes and dial up the accuracy in time for the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, but the judges were not impressed. They ended up with the bronze, ending decades of Russian dominance in the discipline. (With the glaring exception of 2002, of course.)

9. IN MEMORIAM.

While not a scandal, this event bears mentioning because it has rocked the figure skating world arguably more than anything else. In February of 1961, the American figure skating team boarded a flight to Belgium from New York, en route to the World Championships in Prague. The plane went down mysteriously (cause still questioned today) as it tried to land in Brussels, killing all 72 passengers. America's top skaters and coaches had been aboard, including nine-time U.S. Champion and Olympic bronze medalist-turned-coach Maribel Vinson-Owen and her daughter Laurence Owen, a 16-year-old who had been heavily favored to win the ladies event that year.

The ISU canceled the competition upon the news of the crash and the United States lost its long-held dominance in the sport for almost a decade. The United States Figure Skating Association (USFS) soon after established a memorial fund that helped support the skating careers of competitors in need of financial assistance, including future Olympic champions like Scott Hamilton and Peggy Fleming.

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Marvel vs. DC: This Map Shows Each State’s Favorite Comic Universe
Disney/Marvel Studios
Disney/Marvel Studios

Which comic book company is the best: Marvel or DC? This is a perennial argument on middle-school playgrounds and Reddit threads, but this map, courtesy of USDish.com, might just give us a definitive answer. The information here is broken down by state, using information provided by Google Trends to give us a clear winner of not only the most popular comic book company but also the most popular individual hero in each state (let’s show a little respect to Indiana for championing the Martian Manhunter).

According to the map, Marvel is the most popular publisher in 37 states, with DC trailing behind at eight, and five additional states coming to a 50/50 stalemate. The totals weren’t a blowout, though. In certain states like Mississippi, Iowa, and Pennsylvania, the favored company only won by a point. And just because a state searches Google for a specific publisher the most doesn’t mean an individual character from the opposing team isn’t its favorite—Hawaii is listed as favoring Marvel overall, yet they love Aquaman on his own. Same with DC-loving Maryland showing Black Panther some love (helps to have a big movie coming out). Take a look at some of the most notable state preferences below:

So how did Marvel amass so many states when there are just as many DC TV shows and movies out there? Well, according to Andrew Selepak, Ph.D., a professor in the department of telecommunication at the University of Florida, and director of the graduate program in social media, the answer lies in the depth at the House of Ideas.

“While Superman and Batman may be dominant characters,” Selepak said in a statement, “the DC Universe offers few other well-known heroes and villains and when these other characters are presented to the audience in film and on TV, they often are less than well-received.” This is opposed to Marvel, which launches new heroes on the big and small screen seemingly every year.

Does this map tell the whole story? That’s up for debate. When it comes to comics sold, DC and Marvel are always in a close battle: In January 2018, DC had six of the 10 best-selling comics of the month, placing four of the top five. Marvel, meanwhile, had three, while Image Comics had one with The Walking Dead. In terms of overall retail market share, though, Marvel eked out DC 34.3 percent to 33.8 percent.

This is a battle that's been raging since the 1960s, and for an industry that thrives on a never-ending fight between good and evil, we shouldn't expect the Marvel vs. DC debate to be settled anytime soon.

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